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Preview: Frances Stark – Look, read along with me…

Wednesday 14 May 2014

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Words Spindle

The internet and social media has changed the way that we live and communicate; it is a hot topic as we realise those futuristic sci-fi predictions are already here. Tying in with this theme, Hayward Gallery Project Space presents an exhibition by American artist and writer Frances Stark exploring just this.

The exhibition presents two of Stark’s best-known works where Stark explores relationships and the use of language in the digital age. Both works present different conversations that the artist initiated with strangers in online forums. Often developing into virtual sexual encounters, these emotive, curious and humorous conversation transcripts provide an insight into how the interaction between humans is ever-changing in a networked and dynamic society.

My Best Thing (2011) chronicles an online relationship between Stark and two strangers. Their stories are told in turn by two Playmobil-like avatar characters, which the artist created by using free software readily available on the Internet. It simplifies the characters to the most basic forms; they are naked apart from pixilated fig leaves, with voices that are entirely computer-generated. These digital characters’ lack of identity seems to reflect the anonymity of the Internet, even when strangers reveal their true selves entirely (and very intimately) online. The characters discuss a variety of topics including love, philosophy and life as well as offering a surprisingly accurate account of the artist and her creative process. Imbued with the flirtatiousness typical of online chat-rooms these two encounters start off with introductions ending in honest, thought-provoking musings about writing, art-making, film history and politics.

In the main room of the exhibition the viewer encounters three adjacent projections with intermittent white text. This is Osservate, leggete con me (2012) a later work by the artist, which also explores online encounters and relationships. Here she has transcribed and edited conversations with nine different online partners from Chatroulette. The soundtrack to the work is the ’Catalogue Aria’ from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which lists the eponymous antihero’s sexual conquests. The catalogue of Don Giovanni’s seductions mirrors the fact that most of Stark’s online conversations take place after the artist willingly partakes in ‘camsex’ with the strangers.

This exhibition is FREE and open 21 May – 13 July. It is part of Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love (28 June – 31 August 2014).